Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cattails - Lin Frye

Today Charles and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. Seventeen years ago we said our vows under the embrace of maple trees, among family and friends, the trees and woodlands serving as witnesses and supporters. We've loved living our rural life ever since - among too-quickly vanishing farms, tertiary roads, deer, possum, hawks, fox, and cats - ours and neighbors. From growing our own food to frequenting the farms and markets around us, to keeping neighbors bees and planting trees and perennials beds, to driving around the countryside, feeling blessed to live among such rich diversity and beauty.

And so today, I offer these humble cattails and 'ditch' flowers - evidence of the simple joy we take in nature's offering. We'll celebrate by participating in a farm tour - an annual event to showcase our area organic farms and agribusinesses. For dinner, we'll cook the produce we purchase from those who, like us, love living a bit closer to the land.

While cattails may seem an odd choice for a celebration - I offer these humble, often overlooked uses of this roadside dweller: According to Euell Gibbons, whom I admired for his love of the outdoors and recognition of wild foods, cattails are the 'supermarket' of the swamp. Almost all parts of them are edible, and all parts of them are useful:

The rhizome, buried deeply in the muck - can be harvested for the rich flour it produces; the 'potato' like nodules on the roots are harvested and eaten as potatoes, the stalks can be collected in the spring and eaten like water chestnuts, the unripened flowerheads (which later turn brown) can be collected, cooked and eaten like small ears of corn, the pollen can be collected and made into pancakes or used as flour, the seeds can be collected and made into a gruel, the pappus of the seeds (those hairy filaments) were used in WWII to stuff life vests to keep them buoyant, the tall, brown flowers were used to clean chimneys, used in bouquets and flower arrangements, the leaves were woven into mats or used as thatch, and the entire stand of cattails were used to absorb pollutants from lake and river waters.

Amazing - a humble plant and yet filled with so much often overlooked potential. Much like other aspects of the natural world that is often taken for granted until it is gone.

Lin Frye
North Carolina


  1. Happy anniversary to you both! May you enjoy many more. I loved reading your post. Euell Gibbons has been a favorite of mine since I discovered him as a teenager, and I especially love cattails and "ditch" weeds! You did a beautiful job!

  2. Happy anniversary to you both! Love this simple and beautiful painting. Or is that simpley beautiful painting!


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